According to my Spanish dictionary, queso means cheese in English. I checked just to make sure. Because for a while now I’ve noticed that a queso can imply a warm cheese dip that’s often served with salsa and chips at Mexican restaurants. It’s usually somewhat gelatinous, tasteless, and just plain awful. Why wouldn’t it be? They’re not going to put a lot of money into something that they’re giving away.
There is an American version of queso that’s popular, made with Velveeta. Now if you’ve followed my blog for any time now, you know that I abhor this cheese “food.” In fact, it’s what my mother and I used to use on our hooks when we went fishing. It wasn’t until I got married that I learned that people actually ate the stuff!
Velveeta “queso” is made from a giant block of Velveeta, plus some canned tomatoes that contains green chilies. And I think that’s it. The only positive with Velveeta is that it melts well, so the dip if smooth. I don’t care how smooth it is. I won’t touch it.
But Mexican quesos, if they’re not giving away the stuff, can be way more interesting. Those cheese dips can be really flavorful when they’re made with good cheese. If I come across a good queso at a Mexican restaurant, I always have my husband, who’s fluent in Spanish, ask the waiter what kind of cheese they use, out of curiosity. They invariably tell me queso blanco, which translates to white cheese. Now, I think they’re either pulling my chain, or they just don’t know. But there’s no Mexican cheese called queso blanco. But I’ll continue asking until I get a good answer!
So you might be wondering why I wrote a post on Southwestern-inspired food last week, and mentioned that I was going to be surprising everyone with exactly that – something inspired by Southwestern cuisine! Well this is it! I’m making a queso, but not an awful American one, nor a gloppy Mexican variation.
I give you queso, chili verde style. You might be familiar with hearty Pork Chile Verde, a version of which is on this blog. It’s what I used for inspiration!
This queso is Southwestern style, because I’m using a combination of jalapenos, poblanos, tomatillos, and cilantro, all of which are chile verde components. And for the queso part, I’m using Oaxaca cheese, which melts just as well as Velveeta. Plus I’m throwing in some chorizo.
So here’s my Southwestern version of a queso, chili verde style!
Queso Chile Verde
1 pound tomatillos
1 large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 Poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, de-seeded, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup crema, or sour cream
14 ounces Oaxaca cheese, coarsely chopped
Mexican chorizo, cooked and drained, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro, optional
Place the tomatillos in a skillet large enough to hold them in one layer. Mine were fairly large so a regular-sized skillet worked well. Turn on the heat to high, and roast the tomatillos a little, moving them around constantly. This will actually help remove the papery peels.
Let them cool, then remove the peels. If you’d like, you can rinse the tomatillos in warm water to remove some of the natural stickiness. I didn’t.
Turn on the roast setting on your oven for 425 degrees F, or turn on the broiler.
Get out a jelly-roll pan. Finely chop the onion and place the pieces on the pan. De-stem the tomatillos and place those along with the onion on the pan.
You need to remove the stems and seeds from the jalapenos. I always wear a glove on my left hand to avoid getting jalapeno juice in my eyes.
There are many ways to deal with jalapenos. I’ve even tried two different jalapeno de-seeders and neither worked. So here’s how I do it:
Slice off the stem and hold the jalapeno perpendicular to the cutting board. Slice along the outside of the jalapeno from top to bottom, again and again, until all you have left is the seedy core. This is very similar to avoiding the seeds in a green pepper, if you do it this way. You’re left with lovely strips of jalapeno flesh, which you can simply chop for your purposes.
For this recipe, finely chop the jalapenos and add them to the onion and tomatillo.
Drizzle on the olive oil and add a little salt and pepper. Only a little salt; the crema and the Oaxaca cheese are both salty to me.
Roast the vegetables in the oven, taking care to not over brown them. They should look like this:
If you used a roasting setting, keep the oven on. If you used the broiler, turn it off.
Meanwhile, add the tablespoon of oil to a skillet on the stove. This skillet is also going to be my serving vessel, but it doesn’t have to be.
Saute garlic in the oil for just a few seconds over low heat, then stir in the chopped Poblano peppers.
Then add the roasted onion, tomatillo and jalapeno to the skillet and stir everything together.
Add the crema and stir it in well.
Reduce the mixture for about 5 minutes.
Add about half of the chopped cheese to this mixture and stir it in.
Then top the mixture with the remaining cheese.
If you’re using the broiler setting on your oven, turn the broiler back on. When it’s ready, place the skillet under the broiler. It should just take a few minutes for the cheese to melt and brown.
Alternatively, if you want the dip in a nicer serving dish, place everything in it first. Just make sure the dish can withstand heat from the broiler.
For the chorizo, I cooked up the crumbled sausage first, and let it drain on paper towels before starting on the queso.
To serve, I put the chorizo in the middle of the queso; it also could have been stirred in to the dip as well.
And at the last minute I sprinkled chopped cilantro over everything.
Make sure to serve this queso hot, or the cheese will get a little rubbery if it cools. In fact, using a Sterno set-up with this queso would work really well, so it stays hot over time.
I’m a cheese lover, but I don’t like rubbery, cold cheese!
I served the chili verde queso with Pacifico, one of my favorite Mexican beers. It went really well. My husband stuck with Guinness.
verdict: I am very proud of this queso, which utilizes many of my favorite Southwestern flavors and ingredients. Although there are Mexican chile verdes, I was influenced by the very popular pork chile verde from New Mexico, utilizing their famous Hatch chile peppers. It was delicious!!!